A report by Pradeep, senior editor at Windows Mobile fan site WMPowerUser, has broken the news – or rumor – that “Microsoft Research Is In Deep Talks With Lumia Devices Team To Include Secondary Displays In Flip Covers.” This builds on an earlier Bloomberg report about the revival of Microsoft Research within the Redmond giant, but doesn’t actually provide a clear source for this tantalizing tidbit.
Needless to say, other media have picked up on and amplified the original brief teaser. WMPowerUser also shared a graphic (see above) that purports to show the technology and its possible applications, including a software-implemented onscreen keyboard. Pradeep doesn’t add much more to the information in that graphic, beyond stating that “Microsoft Research is already in deep talks with Lumia devices team in Finland to explore the possibilities of including this technology in Lumia devices,” so it’s likely that the image was his primary information source.
All the same, it’s unclear right now how reliable the original report actually is, and what chance there is that these designs will ever be produced. Comments on the original post haven’t provided any more clarity on the source, and at this point, looks like Pradeep’s not telling. However, WMPowerUser does have a moderate to good track record at unearthing Windows rumors that later materialize – look at this previous advance report on the specs for the Lumia 550, for example, which turned out to be quite accurate. Also, WMPowerUser has a prominent “Tip Us” button, which likely will set the fingers of some in-the-know insiders twitching. Furthermore, there are compelling reports elsewhere of a so-called “Surface Phone” described by Microsoft CMO Chris Capossela to Windows Weekly as a “spiritual successor” to the Surface tablet. And of course, one of the most attractive features of the Surface has always been its ultrathin keyboard cover. The new Smart Keyboard cover for the iPad Pro, meanwhile, also suggests that Apple thinks such covers are a big draw for users.
If it is true, could the technology be enough to turn your ereading and mobile device choices towards Lumia and other Windows Phones? I shouldn’t need to emphasize how attractive that secondary screen could be as an ereading screen, especially if it’s eink-based, which looks quite likely, given that it’s written up as a low-power screen that’s persistent even when the primary screen is off. Also, it looks pitched to maximize one of the chief advantages of Windows versus Android – true multitasking across multiple windows. Windows Phones could gain an edge as productivity devices from such technology, that would complement the vision of Windows Continuum throughflow productivity.
As for the Android competition, TeleRead has reported in the past on products such as the YotaPhone 2, and YotaPhone’s direct integration with FBReader to provide an out-of-the-box ereading experience on its secondary e-ink screen. But devices like the Alcatel OneTouch Hero with its own detachable e-ink cover, or the MIDIA InkPhone with its e-ink display, haven’t exactly set the Android world on fire. The new Microsoft Research designs – if true – do actually look more compelling than these implementations. However, with the open free-for-all Android device and accessory ecosystem, it’s hard to believe that manufacturers wouldn’t come up with something to match, if Microsoft does roll the technology out.
That said, if Microsoft is ever going to win customers from Android and Apple in the mobile space, it does need to woo them with compelling, and elegantly implemented, solutions. The Microsoft Display Dock is already a step in that direction. And these new designs also look like the right way to go – if they’re more than vaporware, or heated rumors.